Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" begins with an old Negro woman walking in the forest. In the beginning the conflict was not obvious, although some clues were given in the second sentence where it stated that she was "an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag." That alluded to three of the conflicts of race, old age and poverty. However, the main conflict of the story was not disclosed until near the conclusion where we learned that she was traveling to town to obtain medicine for her grandson. That brought several questions to mind. Namely, why was an old woman forced to walk all that way to get medicine for her sick grandson? In today's society this would not occur. There are many services in place for the sick and the elderly and it is likely that both Phoenix Jackson and her grandson would be taken care of and given proper medical attention. But this story did not take place in today's society. It took place in the early 1900's where society was nearly opposite of it's state today. Thus, the conflict being illustrated is that of an individual versus society. The problems that Phoenix Jackson faces as a result of this are her old age, her health, racial tensions, her poverty, and her grandson's health.
Phoenix's old age was her main adversity and was emphasized throughout the story. In the second paragraph, Welty states "Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead..." While old age is an inevitability of life, many of the problems associated with it do not have to be. Today's society has numerous programs for the elderly as well as residential care for those who can no longer care for themselves. But in the early 1900's, these programs did not exist and thus, Phoenix Jackson was left to fend for herself. However, the fact that she was willing to undertake this journey despite her age shows a determination and resilience that many people lack.
Her age compounded another problem - her failing health. Welty describes many ailments of Phoenix. In the first paragraph she states the Phoenix "carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her." The fact that she walks with a cane shows that while she's not disabled, she should not be walking a long distance through the woods by herself. Welty also mentions numerous other ailments such as her failing eyesight and senses, her senility and Welty also alludes to the possibility that she may have suffered a stroke. These ailments heighten the tension in the story and turn what could have been a simple, albeit long, walk in the woods into an troublesome and arduous journey. They also demonstrate Phoenix Jackson's selflessness. She is willing to put herself at risk and make this long journey in order to help her grandson.
A third problem that Phoenix faces is her race. This is immediately introduced in the first sentence of the story but is brought out later on when she meets the white hunter. He laughs at her and implies that she is like a child when he states "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus." He also points his gun at her and laughs when she's not afraid of it. That is something he probably would not do to a white woman which again shows that he (and most of society) views black people as being inferior to whites. Phoenix again shows her inner strength when she is not afraid of the gun. Although this is the main direct conflict regarding her race, it is an underlying conflict throughout the entire story. Society in the early 1900's was designed to place blacks at a lower level than whites and consequently Phoenix was probably given even less help than she would have received had she been white.
The original conflict in the story is her grandson's health. The entire story is based around this as it is the reason Phoenix undertakes the journey in the first place. Although